Sports Psychology for Parents

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Sports psychology for parents is an important component for helping kids perform at their best. I often get questions from parents of young athletes wanting to know how they can positively contribute to their child’s athletic development and if they are doing anything that might be causing problems.

In my sports psychology practice, I usually meet with the parents and young athlete separately and together. It is not unusual to get differing stories as to what the problems are and what causes them.

In most cases, sports psychology for parents involves a few sessions of helping them better understand how I will evaluate and work with their child along with educating them about some specific things they might want to do more of or less of. In some situations one or both parents may be inadvertently causing or contributing to their child’s problem. One parent thought he was helping his kid reach his goal to become a star tennis player on his high school team. After a full day of school and 2-3 hours of practice, he would come home at which point he father would insist that he serve 300 tennis balls before dinner! The kid got burnt out and quit the tennis team. Some parental behaviors are more subtle, like grimacing whenever the player makes a mistake. Sometimes parents fail to intervene when they should, like a child throwing a tantrum on the court or throwing a racquet in anger or disgust.

Many of these issues can be addressed in a short amount of time. Occasionally, family counseling is needed and in cases where the parents are unwilling or unable to change, I work individually with the young athlete to teach coping skills to be able to better manage those people and situations he may not be able to control.

Dr. Robert Heller is a psychologist and sport psychology consultant based in Boca Raton, Florida. He is the author of numerous self improvement guides and the widely used mental conditioning CD-ROM training program, TENNISMIND.

(This blog was originally posted in Tennis Enthusiast)

Sports Psychology for Athletes

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Sports Psychology for athletes has become increasingly popular over the past number of years as professional athletes increasingly attribute their success, comebacks and ability to overcome obstacles to their work with sports psychologists. In fact, there is a popular television drama series that features a sports psychologist who consults with football players, tennis players, coaches and managers. While the television sports psychologist role is exaggerated and over the line in some cases, it is true that many of the problems athletes demonstrate on the field are often a reflection of problems they are having in their lives off the field.

While sports psychologists teach mental and emotional skills that can be helpful for athletes to perform better in their respective sport and these skills can also be applied to their personal lives, often times, it is the personal counseling over a period of weeks and months that often makes the most difference in the long term success of the athlete.

A quick consultation or brief session or two can be helpful in the same way  band aid or a field adjustment by a personal trainer to attend to a strained muscle can provide a temporary fix. However, the long term solution usually requires both a more comprehensive evaluation and a more in depth treatment.

In my sports psychology practice in Boca Raton, Florida, because of the many tennis and golf academies, I tend to see many of these types of young athletes. They are referred by coaches and brought in by their parents and almost always come in for “performance related” concerns. I have found that often times these performance issues affect them in many areas of their lives. For example, a tennis player who gets very anxious before a match to the point of throwing up, responds in a similar way before taking a test in school or giving a presentation in front of the class. While teaching the athlete how to relax would be a part of the treatment package, other components would include helping the athlete understand the connection between his or her thoughts and feelings and teaching cognitive coping skills to create healthier attitudes and beliefs.

By understanding and working on the “big picture”, young athletes can learn to perform to the best of their abilities and develop in emotionally healthy adults.

Dr.Robert Heller is a psychologist and sports psychology consultant based in Boca Raton, Fl and author of the mental conditioning CD-ROM program TENNISMIND.

(This blog was originally posted in Tennis Enthusiast)

Sports Psychology for Seniors

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Sports Psychology for Seniors

Sports Psychology is not just for professionals, advanced players or only youngsters.  Many seniors pick up competitive sports, especially sports like golf and tennis, later in life. Sports psychology training can help them to learn, play and compete in their sports better and have more enjoyment in the process.

Mental and emotional skills like physical technical skills can be learned and enhanced at any age or ability level. Mental skills training is one aspect of sports psychology and depending on the needs of the player, skills like goal setting, managing distractions, improving concentration and guided visualization can all aid in helping the senior player improve their results.

Another part of sports psychology for seniors is helping them deal with emotional issues that can interfere with performance and enjoyment. One of my clients wanted help to feel more confident. In his case, it meant learning to care less what his doubles partner in tennis might think if he missed a shot or played poorly. A female client was so worried that she wouldn’t be moved up on her team if she didn’t play well that she created a self-fulfilling prophecy: By focusing in so much on the end result, she distracted herself by not playing in the moment and didn’t play nearly as well as she could have. A “weekend warrior” just coming back from a serious hip injury had overly high expectations of himself with respect to movement and speed. His disappointment turned to frustration and self-anger.

Sports psychology for seniors might result in teaching them how to better give and receive constructive criticism from coaches, partners and opponents, how to communicate more effectively with others and how to regulate their emotions through self talk and relaxation methods.

Mental coaching offers seniors and others the opportunity to perform to their highest potential more of the time and to enjoy their sport for years to come.

(Originally posted in Tennis Enthusiast)

 

Reducing Anxiety in Sports

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Reducing Anxiety in Sports

Reducing anxiety in sports is largely about managing expectations. In my work as a sport psychology consultant I work with a large number of high level junior tennis players. Almost all young athletes I work see have the goal of playing with less anxiety.

In many cases the tennis athlete is far more anxious when competing against a weaker player than a stronger player. In playing a weaker player the expectation is “I am better. I should win easily. If I don’t put this opponent away quickly, others will think I am not very good”. This added pressure sets the player up for increased muscle tension, decreased concentration and a greater chance for mistakes and poor play. In fact the worry cycle might begin if he/she losses a few points or games. The fear of losing to a “weaker” player comes to the forefront and increases with every lost point.

In contrast, when playing a stronger player, anxiety is less because the thinking is, “I am not supposed to win. She is the ranked player. No one is going to think less about me if I lose.” As a result, the player plays more relaxed and with a greater sense of freedom. They often perform at their best and may, at times, pull off an upset win.

Another method to reduce anxiety in sports is training the athlete to monitor and modify their breathing. By learning to breathe, slowly and deeply through the belly, the athlete can take the edge off of negative emotions and anxiety and anger and maintain a steadier composure in the face of adversity.

Combining strategies from cognitive therapy with behavioral methods provides the athlete with specific tools they can use to reduce anxiety in sports and perform closer and more consistently to their true potential.

Defeating Negative Thinking

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Defeating Negative Thinking

Negative thinking is easy to acquire and once it becomes a habit, requires consistent effort to change. Defeating negative thinking requires you to first become aware of what your negative thoughts and when they occur. Next, you need to make a list of the negative thoughts. Then, you need to come up with a “better” thought to “replace” the negative thought and practicing thinking and saying the replacement thought whenever the negative thought comes to mind. You must practice saying the new healthier thought STRONGLY and PASSIONATELY in order to get a change at the feeling level.

Defeating negative thinking requires systematic practice. Here is a mental exercise you can practice with: (I use this with tennis players, although you can see how easily it can be adapted to use with other sports or even in non-athletic related situations.)

Here is a list of common negative thoughts associated with playing competitive tennis. For each negative statement, write a more desirable positive statement.

1. Oh no. I have to play this opponent in the first round, I have lost to him twice before.

2. I can’t believe I missed that shot. What’s wrong with me?

3. I am down 3-0. I don’t have a chance.

4. That’s the second backhand I missed. My backhand is the worst.

5. I double faulted on game point. I really suck.

6. I should be killing this guy. I’m so much better and I’m down 3-1.

7. It’s unbelievable. That’s the second shot of mine that hit the line and he called it out. What  a cheater!

8. I was ahead the entire set and now it’s 5-5. I’m terrible. I’ll probably end up blowing the set and losing the match.

9. My overhead was great in practice all week and now in the match I have missed 2 of them.

10. I can’t get over that bad call last game. It was such an important point.

Write any additional negative thoughts that are specific to your situation on the back of this page.

On  a separate sheet of paper for each negative thought, come up with a more desirable thought to counter the negative one.

Now you have completed the first step in defeating negative thinking.

 

Resiliency

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Resiliency, the ability to come back when behind, is a key mental skill to have both in sports and in life. A recent NBC show highlighted the resiliency of pro golfer, Michael Allen, who for most of his life struggled to make a living as a pro golfer.

Although he believed in himself, after 334 PGA starts without a win he called it quits. In an effort to better support his family, he tried other jobs. After several more years, with the support of his wife and the financial backing of friends he tried again.

His wife convinced him he had to do something different in order to have a better chance at a successful comeback. This time, he worked more on his fitness, hired a new “swing coach” and worked with a “sports psychologist”.

Resiliency combined with doing things differently paid off. After 20 years, Michael won his first PGA Senior tour and for the past 5 years has been a leading money winner, winning several other major tournaments.

The interview was conducted by veteran news reporter, Jayne Pauly. When asked by Matt Lauer of the Today Show, which of the changes she felt were most important in turning things around for Michel Allen, she said, the “sports psychology”.

As a sports psychologist, I live and work in Boca Raton,Florida, a Mecca for golf and tennis and home to numerous professional athletic events. In my experience, mental skills like resiliency and confidence are partly inherited, partly learned through early childhood experiences and partly improved upon through teaching,  as are many life skills.

Through counseling and various types of emotional skills training athletes and non-athletes can learn to make changes and improvements in their performance both on and off the playing field.

The key is to get the help you need, make the necessary changes and put in the time and effort for things to come together.

The Mental Skills Report Card

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

The mental skills report card is a self assessment of mental skills that individuals complete at the end of a game, match or important situation where they “should” have used one or more mental skills to help them perform to their potential.

Mental coaches and cognitive behavioral therapists use self monitoring tools to help individuals stay focused on training and evaluating new mental skills that are taught and then incorporated into the individual’s life.

Typical mental skills to enhance performance of all kinds include: confidence, concentration, calmness, communication, managing mistakes, performing well in pressure situations, recovering from adversity, etc.

Depending on the needs and goals of the individual, the psychologist teaches strategies to develop each of the mental skills. Once learned, the individual starts to incorporate them into their personal circumstances, then self rates their implementation of the mental skills and how effective they felt they were in using them.

Self recording of mental skills helps the individual and the mental coach evaluate the effectiveness of the mental skills training program and fine tune things as needed.

Regularly recording one’s mental skills reinforces the important of using mental skills and provides a more accurate evaluation as to their usefulness.

A mental skills report card can be a simple index card with the skills written on them and a checklist or rating scale that looks at frequency of use and effectiveness of use or it can have individual questions such as:

  • I remembered to breathe slowly and deeply for up to 5 minutes before giving my presentation (or at the beginning of my game).
  • When I missed a shot I immediately forgot about it and pictured hitting it successfully the next time.

By regularly reviewing and recording your mental skills progress, the skills eventually become a habit and you find yourself using them without even thinking about it.

How to Become Resilient

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

When you are resilient, you can handle adversity, come back when you are behind and channel pressure into helping you perform at your best. Resilient people use an ABCD or 4 step approach.

First of all, when they make a mistake, resilient people quickly(A) analyze it without judgment or emotion. They know they can’t do anything about what has just happened but seek to prevent future mistakes.

Secondly, they (B) breathe- slowly and deeply. This relaxes the body and calms the mind. It helps to forget the mistake, keep it in realistic perspective and move on.

The third step resilient people use is (C), they correct the mistake by focusing on what they might do differently the next time to insure a different result.

The fourth step is they (D) decide on a plan or course of action that they will immediately implement in order to move forward with greater confidence and effectiveness.

Resilient people have learned these skills either through trial and error or by being taught by someone who is resilient themselves.

If we use the sport of tennis as an example, consider a resilient player. He or she double faults. Instead of becoming self critical or overly negative, he mentally reviews the source of the error and decides the ball was tossed too low. He takes a calming breath to help let go and forget the last shot and pictures himself tossing the ball higher at the next opportunity. As he prepares to serve he thinks to himself “Higher toss” and pictures his arm releasing the ball as his arm raises past his eyes. All of this is accomplished in a matter of seconds.

Resilient people practice this 4 part process in most things they do. Try it yourself for three weeks in a particularly area of your life and notice what results you get.

 

Positive Thinking Against All Odds

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Positive thinking is a mind set that helps you perform to your best even in the most challenging situations. At the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, Rafael Nadal the number two player in the world and two time winner of the tournament, was facing an unknown player ranked 100 in the world, Lukas Rosol, from theCzech Republic. In each of his previous 5 appearances atWimbledon, he had lost in the qualifying rounds never even reaching the main draw.  The odds of Rosol beating Nadal were extremely, extremely low. However, someone apparently forgot to tell Sokol about it.

Rather than appearing anxious or intimidated, Rosol, was hitting with authority and maintained a cool, composed, business like attitude. Nadal was playing pretty well and wasn’t having an off day. Yet Rosol kept the pressure on. Even when Rosol missed a number of shots (unforced errors) he continued to go for his shots and hit a surprising number of amazing winners.

People who use positive thinking stay focused in the present moment and don’t over analyze a situation. When this optimistic attitude lines up with their natural talent, it allows them to perform at their best.

Positive thinking helps individuals get and stay in the “zone”, a reference to performing a task at an extremely high level in an apparent automatic and effortless way.

Often times, it is actually easier to compete in a situation where you are the clear underdog and not expected to win. There is no pressure on you to achieve or succeed. You don’t have to worry about disappointing others. You are therefore free to try new things or a different game plan. The worst that happens is you lose, which is what was “supposed” to happen anyway.

The idea that you have “nothing to lose” frees you to perform with a greater sense of freedom and ease which can propel your usual performance to an unusually higher level of functioning.

So, next time you face a tough opponent or a challenging situation, let you positive thinking kick in and believe in yourself and abilities and let whatever happens happen. Good things may happen!

Self-help Books

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

I have been using self-help books as a supplement to my work with clients for over 40 years. My mentor, Dr. Albert Ellis was one of the earliest psychologists to write his own self-help books. Bibliotherapy is widely used by therapists in their work with clients. The reading of material and engaging in exercises provided provides structure and support for clients between sessions while strengthening the work that goes on within the therapy session.

Many self-help books fill the shelves of major bookstores and some people read and benefit by them without ever seeing a therapist. Most individuals with serious concerns find these books interesting but often insufficient to provide relief by themselves.

Over the past 10 years, I have written and published more than 14 self-help books. One of the unique features is they are in the format of small, pocket-sized publications that individuals can conveniently carry with them and refer to whenever they needed a helpful reminder about how to think or respond during difficult times or challenging situations. These pocket sized self-help guidebooks provide insights and strategies on many of the most common problems individual face including stress, anger, anxiety, depression, worry, alcohol, drugs, smoking, weight, marital stress and work conflicts.

The guidebooks are written simply and practically with illustrations to highlight various strategies and methods. Most are 24-32 pages. Concise and to the point, they are useful aids to help clients maximize their improvement between sessions. They are sold to therapists to use with their clients. At $10 a copy, they are inexpensive, durable self-help books that will assist clients not only in feeling better but getting better.

In my practice, I often teach clients how to relax using diaphragmatic breathing. I demonstrate and they practice within the session. The guidebook provides clear and easy reminders that help them practice more effectively at home.

Whether you are one of my clients or seeing another therapist, you should consider inquiring about using a self-help book to add to your therapy experience.

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